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31
JAN
2015

Does Being Bilingual Really Make a Difference?

Bilingual

Most people accept that when we speak more than one language, our perception of the world expands and becomes richer. Languages are linked to culture and often have unique meaning, which provide us with a better understanding of our world. We also assume that being bilingual is an advantage in the professional world, opening up opportunities to work for multi-national companies or doing business abroad. But when we speak a second language, there is still another advantage that you might not even know about!

Often called “the bilingual edge”, many language researchers and scientists who have studied the cognitive effects of learning more than one language tend to agree that our brains are affected by it. To what degree, however, and in what way, is still a topic of debate.

In years past, for example, it was commonly believed that bilingual children were at a disadvantage when it came to verbal development and even their IQ score. Today, the opposite belief is more common, and many parents are making sure their children learn a second language from the earliest age. You may know parents who hire foreign nannies or send their children to a language immersion school. These parents are seeking to give their child “the bilingual edge”, which is not just about improving intellectual ability, but also cognitive development.

Though there is still much room for debate on this topic, many researchers believe that people who speak more than one language, especially those who are forced to switch back and forth between two or more languages in a short space of time, have something called “enhanced executive control” which includes the ability to switch tasks quickly and have a longer attention span.

However, the scientific studies on this topic have had  varying results, making room for much debate on this topic. Are children better off intellectually when they speak more than one language? Will they perform better in school…or worse?

While the answers to these questions are still not totally understood, there is one aspect of “the bilingual edge” that most researchers do agree on, and it has to do with aging. Dementia and Alzheimer’s diseases are becoming increasingly common among the elderly today, as people are living longer than ever before. At the moment, there is no cure, and doctors and scientists are still searching for the real causes. There have been many popular trends lately for the elderly (or aging) to play “brain games” such as crossword puzzles to keep their brains healthy and prevent the onset of these tragic neurological disorders.

The good news is that bilingual or multilingual people tend to fend off these diseases on average 4 years longer than their monolingual peers! Now that’s some big news!

So whether you are learning English or other languages for work, school, or pleasure, you can be sure that you are doing yourself a favor in the long run–not only increasing the richness of your world view and improving your communication abilities, but keeping your brain young and healthy for many years to come!

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What are your reasons for learning English or another language?

Do you think being bilingual makes your smarter?

Have you enrolled your children in bilingual programs or activities?

Do you think it has helped their overall academic performance?

We love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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April is an e-marketing specialist, English instructor and freelance writer living in Grenoble, France.
  1. Pauline Burke Reply

    Nice article. I am an Irish woman living in Valencia. I have learned Irish, English, French, Castillano, Hindi and Urdu. Now I only speak English and Castillano. My son goes to a Spanish primary school where they teach lessons through Valenciano, learns Castillano and English as second languages and speaks all three languages fluently.
    I teach English as a hobby. I love languages and learning about different culltures.

  2. Zach Beaulieu Reply

    Hello! I’m an American man, born and raised in Maine, where I grew up in a bilingual (French/English) household. The French my parents spoke was not taught to me by them. Rather I had to learn Parisian French in school and university by my own will to carry on my family’s French heritage.

    One thing that I found through learning my second language is that it became easier for me to make associations between things and ideas. This skill I believe to be due to the augmentation of vocabulary over multiple languages, which in my years in university included Latin, Polish, Italian, and Russian. If one word for some reason eluded me, it was common that I could create a path to it through another language, as I had once before established an association between those two, three or even four words.

    The ability to do this helped me immensely through my studies and in the workplace. And it is for this reason that I will always support the desire someone may have to become bilingual. The application of such knowledge in my daily life has proven to be quite precious.

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